NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Johnny Hincapie spent 25 years in prison for his alleged role in a deadly mugging in Midtown before a judge overturned his conviction earlier this year.
In his first sit-down interview after being released from prison, Hincapie tried to explain to CBS2’s Lou Young the videotaped confession that helped put him behind bars.
“They didn’t beat the truth out of me; they beat a false, coerced story into me,” Hincapie said.
It was 1990, one of the bloodiest years in city history. But the brutal murder of tourist Brian Watkins, who was killed in the subway while defending his family from a pack of teenagers, shook the city to its core.
After the incident, police rounded up suspects, and took Hincapie from his home the next day.
“They took me with them,” Hincapie said. “They told my mother I didn’t need an attorney.”
In a videotaped confession, Hincapie, who was 18 years old at the time, admitted to being on the platform when Watkins was killed.
Young: “Why did you do that? What did you think it would get you?”
“It would get me to to go back home. That’s what they told me — that by memorizing the story and confessing to it to another, as he said — quote-unquote — “pretty lady” in another room, that I would go right back home — and I believed him,” Hincapie said.
Hincapie said one detective was physically persuasive.
“He pulled my hair, he smacked me in my face, he placed his foot on my chest, he kicked me to the floor,” he said.
If you lived in New York back then you probably remember what it was like — the murder rate was astonishingly high, the police force a lot smaller than it is now and the long- term solutions to those problems were just coming into play. People were out of patience. A high-profile crime like this required quick action.
“People said ‘just do anything to bring crime down,'”Ron Kuby, Hincapie’s attorney, said. “Get it done.”
Decades into Hincapie’s sentence, a bombshell — three witnesses said he was never at the scene of the crime. Hincapie, now on bail, awaits a decision on whether he’ll be retried for murder. If he is retried, the events leading up to the alleged false confession will be a central part of the case.
CBS2 asked New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton if he planned to investigate the way Hincapie was interrogated.
“We’ll let the appeal go forward” Bratton said. “He has his own recollection of what occurred.”
In cases overturned with DNA evidence, 25 percent of the wrongfully convicted also confessed to the crime, according to experts.